In 2001 President Hosni Mubarak celebrated his twentieth year in power. Since the signing of a peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptian state has been trying to contain constant anti-Israeli feeling in public opinion. The year was furthermore marked by numerous diplomatic incidents between the two countries due to articles published in the Egyptian and Israeli press.
Many international organisations have denounced Egypt for the deterioration of freedom in the country, as attested by the prosecution of human rights activists and the sensational trial of 52 homosexuals in the state security court.
Although the constitutional high court affirmed in 1993 that the right to criticise public officials was one of the requirements of a democratic system, and Article 4 of the 1996 press law prohibits censorship, the government’s pressure on journalists is constant. The media are divided into three categories: government media, partisan media (i.e. political party organs) and privately-owned media. In view of the difficulty of obtaining a licence, privately-owned newspapers are often forced to be published abroad, especially in Cyprus. They are then sold in Egypt like any other foreign publication. Unlike the Egyptian press, however, these publications under foreign licence are subject to advance censorship. At any time, the information minister can seize any particular issue or even withdraw its authorisation to be printed or distributed. Many topics are taboo: relations between Copts and Moslems; the spread of terrorist doctrines; the issue of human rights violations; criticism of the state president, his family or the army; the presentation of modern interpretations of Islam, etc.
In June an article published in Al Nabaa and Akher Khabar, implicating a Coptic monk in an affair of prostitution, caused an outcry in the Coptic community which organised many demonstrations. The two publications were closed and the journalist sentenced to three years in jail. Another journalist, of Islamist sympathies, has been in jail since 1993 even though he was acquitted.
Two journalists incarcerated
Two journalists were behind bars on 1 January 2002.
Despite his acquittal, Abd Al-Munim Gamal Al-Din Abd Al-Munim, journalist with the pro-Islamist bi-weekly Al Shaab, the organ of the (Islamist) Labour Party, has been behind bars since February 1993 following a detention order without any specification of duration. On 30 October 1993, at the end of an eight-month trial in the Cairo military court, the journalist and about ten other accused were acquitted. However, rather than being released, he was transferred to Tora jail in Cairo. He is currently detained in Rayoum jail, south-west of Cairo. He is suffering from kidney problems and asthma.
The state security court sentenced Mahmoud Mahran, editor-in-chief of the weekly Al Nabaa and of the daily Akher Khabar, on 16 September to three years in jail and a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds (about 52 euros) for "incitement to national insurrection", "insulting a religion" and "publication of indecent photographs". The court had already suspended the licences of Al Nabaa and Akher Khabar, of which the incriminating issues were seized. This judgement followed the publication of articles and photos of a bearded man, presented as a monk from an Assiout monastery in central Egypt, frolicking with a naked woman, under the heading "A monastery turned into a brothel".
The affair triggered many demonstrations by Copts in June in Cairo. Since the sentence was confirmed by President Moubarak, the journalist was arrested in October although he was in hospital for heart problems.
Pressure and obstruction
On 22 March 2001 the press council, the government body responsible for granting publication licences, upheld the suspension of the pro-Islamist bi-weekly Al Shaab, the Labour Party organ, despite a decision by the administrative court authorising its reappearance.
In September 2000 the party commission, a government body, had decided to close Al Shaab after the Labour Party activities had been suspended.
On 9 May the Cairo appeal court sentenced five journalists with the opposition daily Al Ahrar to a fine of 7,500 Egyptian pounds each (about 2,160 euros).
On 16 April 2000 the Cairo magistrate court had sentenced the editor-in-chief, Salah Qabadaya, and the four other journalists, Hossam Solimane, Mohamed Abdel Fahim, Hicham Moustafa and Nabil Rizqallah, to six months’ imprisonment. The five journalists were accused of libel in 1997 against the president of the airline company Egyptair.
In late June the Egyptian authorities banned distribution of the weekly Al Gournal published in Cyprus. The newspaper had published a front-page article, signed Magdi al Cherif, mentioning that "48% of young Egyptian men were impotent".
During the summer Hossam Bahgat, former journalist with the English-language weekly Cairo Times, was the victim of a slander campaign in some Egyptian newspapers. In an article for the US journal MERIP, the journalist, nicknamed "the spokesman for sexual deviants in Egypt", had criticised human rights organisations’ refusal to defend the 52 homosexuals prosecuted.
Wahid Ghazi, editor-in-chief, and Hossam Wahaballah, journalist, with the weekly Al Mowagaha, were sentenced on 25 November to two years in jail. The press council had filed a complaint for the publication, in June, of articles and photos of men and women in "compromising situations", judged "offensive to readers". The journalists have appealed.